Toward exposing my aspirations while first making a mild disclaimer, I begin with three quotations as constellation:
Bill Viola: "Value
judgments are destructive to our proper business, which is curiosity
E.M. de Melo e Castro:
"On the whole, a verbi-voco-sound-visual-color- movement
and animated image is created calling for a total kinesthetic perception".
Butch Morris: "In
other words, constant preparation—preparation for the next, and the
for the next—for something we did not hear and for something we have never heard".
Generally, I wish to consider
as integral what has happened mechanically and aesthetically in hypertext
[also known, through Espen Aarseth's research, as cybertext], rather than
focus criticism against it. The pressing matter now, from a creative
point of view, is interface design. Who controls the computer "switches",
and what is available within those switches, controls how we live and invent.
How we really want to absorb, manipulate and output materials are considerable
decisions we face at the present time.
"Terminals" of one form or another will always abound: games, movies, news, the equivalent of television programs and some type of VR (or interactive cyber-reality) domains will be readily available in the coming years. Raising the bar on software standards gives us an opportunity to progenerate our digital possibilities (and status of culture) and the arts rather than stifle them. It is imperative that a versatile integrated "system" is developed so that complex content may be learned and delivered. One voice without sophisticated programming abilities cannot in itself raise the standards on what we have available to us at present, but hopefully a poetic viewpoint may provoke further discussion and thinking within the subject.
Many conceptualizations and theories surrounding hypertext are based on its cognitive and visual attributes toward stimulating absorption and construction. New directions for electronic text intensify their attention to the ear (sound) and to hand-craft (to expand previous aesthetic aspects of visuality). Advancing these dimensions will make forms of interactivity less like the passivity of television and other mass-media, and perhaps less "artificial" than what we have seen so far.
Soundtracks and what I'd like to call hyper-sound (interlinked layers of sound) are basically absent from much of digital literature. [Notable exceptions include: GRAMMATRON, The Hootenany Manifestation, ubu web, Shockzone, and work by Sally Harbison, Christine Baczewska, and Loss Pequeno Glazier.] When present, they most often serve as ambient backdrops, sound-bites, or direct recitation of a written work. An energetic approach to these potentially interconnected materials is in order.
Distinctions between photographic representation and rendered by-hand or touch based imaging also need further consideration. The folk-imagination and other practical qualities (i.e. matrixed lyricism with social, spiritual, and cultural relevance) of a text such as William Blake's Illuminated Books—etched into copper plates by hand two hundred years ago—have yet to be matched in the poesis of today's innovations. With our stylus pens and hexidecimal systems we accept and enjoy completely different methods and processes than Blake. Yet the possibilities for output are basically the same, except that Blake had no way to electronically transmit his renderings. To be clear, however, I am far less interested in imposing an aesthetic than I am interested in, to borrow another phrase in Butch Morris' "Notes on Conduction", "the creation of a medium that redefines itself and the spirit of quality—a quality that radiates unique properties" (8).
A shift in hypertext's priorities leads to a blending of emphases, old and new. "Cyberspace" does and does not demand for the artist a radically new appearance of text. Thus, today's condition of electronic texts, where most evidence of human voice and hand are ostensibly absent, seems unusual; we seem to have advanced and not advanced. Even if mind and machine create code, thus hypertext, the artist also has the ear, the heart, the line, syllable, body and breath to contend with in their representation. Defining "conduction", Morris writes, "Using a vocabulary of signs and gestures, many within the general glossary of traditional conducting, the conductor may alter or initiate rhythm, melody, harmony, not to exclude the development of form/structure, both extended and common, and the instantaneous change in articulation, phrasing, and meter. Indefinite repeats of a phrase or measures may now be at the discretion of the new Composer on the Podium" (10). This model of conduction both historically echoes and serves up new metaphors for hypertext. The position of the conductor may be placed on either or both users and authors; the podium is the "terminal". Physical gestures are used to activate different layers and arrangements and configurations of textual elements.
Graphical and other design elements enabled by the computer are indeed monumental. The age of mechanical reproduction is going strong, but all of these considerations do not preclude the loss of other aesthetic values: spoken or folk elements, or the equal power of the hand to convey messages as do the mind and eye. The beauty of it, and a primary motivation for me, is the fact that pluralistic methodologies are available. John Cayley argues for silent reading as an important mode of resistance in hypertext [see "Beyond Codexpace: Potentialities of Literary Cybertext" (Visible Language 30.2) and "HYPERTEXT / CYBERTEXT / POETEXT" (online)], and Michael Joyce uses the trope of silence as a counterpoint to noise (drawing our attention to both) [see "So Much Time, so Little to Do", (Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics)], and I believe quietude and machinated imagery do not maximize potentials of the computer. In the non-monolithic ideal I just spoke of, this is perfectly acceptable: interface and software parameters are still a primary concern to us all.
My background is in poetry, print and electronic publishing, music, and literary criticism. Poetry has always in effect "opened" into multitudes of "texts". That this process, poetry's intrinsic opening into other texts, is facilitated by the use of digital media only strengthens my confidence in synthesizing the two forms, and using poetry (digital and otherwise) to envision what systems might embody in the future. Variable layers of texts, soundings, visualizations, and interpretations of text can be engaged by the reader on the computer screen: interactive exploration of what is inside a text, and what a text is inside of.
The Web synthesizes graphical (color), animated, and sound elements in addition to what might be the "written" text itself. What this means for poetry in terms of form is relatively straightforward. Language—its principle vehicle—is no longer lodged on a fixed, soundless page. As a result of this other—computerized—language, it inhabits a flexible, dynamic, and transmittable multiplex of circuitry which allows built-in links, intricate graphical components, soundtracks, and other capabilities, such as various forms of animation. The vividness of literary activity as it extends to the present is charged with additional elements.
Changes in the media we use for the transmission of poetic materials alters its appearance and form, possibly rescuing it from becoming a redundancy in the coming industreality. We all have the challenge of getting somewhere that we are not. The best viewpoint I have come across with regards to imagining an ideal for cyberspace is Ladislao Pablo Györi's description of a "Virtual Poetry Domain". In Visible Language 30.2, Gyori writes:
Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and
Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1995.
Kac, Eduardo, ed. Visible Language 30.2, New
Media Poetry: Poetic Innovation and New
Technologies. Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, 1996.
Morris, Butch. Testament: A Conduction Collection. New York: New World Records, 1995.
Viola, Bill. Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House:
Writings 1973-1994. Cambridge: MIT